Monday, December 27, 2004

the traditional Christmas Fig Tree Posted by Hello

It isn't Christmas without a fire. Posted by Hello

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas inventory

  • Playing of Messiah: several times on CD, several times (extracts) live, courtesy of the Family Chamber Consort, known far and wide for their enthusiasm, and perhaps someday to be known far and wide for their skill.
  • Crackling wood fire: one. ... Well, okay, it was on TV: the local cable channel broadcast a video of a fire with stockings hanging beside it.
  • Christmas crackers: eight. Five for us, and three for the girls down the street who shovelled our driveway while we were eating dinner.
  • Jokes in the Christmas crackers: 48, including the ones in French and Spanish.
  • Funny jokes in the Christmas crackers: zero.
  • but!!! paper crowns that fit: all of them, pretty much--a first, since most of us have enormous noggins.
  • Loaves of banana bread made to give to various aunts and church members: twelve.
  • Loaves of banana bread that came out of the pan intact: three.
  • Standard-issue Christmas trees: zero. We didn't bother to get a cut-down evergreen this year, opting instead to load as many ornaments as possible onto my parents little potted fig tree. It actually looked entirely charming.
  • Family members: five.
  • Healthy family members: one. (What with my mother's chronic sinus infection and my brother's resurgent malaria and such like, I was the only really able-bodied one in the house today.)
  • Family members that joined the family in the past three years: one. (Begüm, my parents' former exchange student from Turkey, is their new daughter. My parents have taught her a lot of English, with the result that she is constantly convulsing me by using one of my father's characteristic expressions with his exact intonation. She's going to school in Canada now, and this is the third Christmas she's spent with my family. Since this is only her third Christmas ever (she's a good Muslim herself), she's endearingly enthusiastic about decorating the Christmas (fig) tree and opening presents...I had to scold her several times for trying to peek under the wrapping paper of the gifts that were under the tree.)
  • Amount of food eaten: too much.
  • Number of dishes washed: ten thousand (approximately).
  • Amount of love present: incalculable.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


I haven't been posting here much recently. I've been getting all of my brilliant observations off my chest in real-life conversations with my real-life parents, in the past few days, and before that in Instant Message sessions with various dear friends I've never met. But I do want to share my Theory of Friendship, recently formulated by me:

A friendship consists of forbearance, compassion, and animal noises.

It's true. You can be nice to anyone; in a pinch you can even take care of anyone; but if you can sit on their floor making barnyard sounds with them, they're a real friend.

and on that note, *hsqueeEEEagh!* I'm going to bed

Saturday, December 04, 2004

'Tis, as they say, the season

for unrestrained greed. In that spirit, I've been assembling wishlists--but somehow I can't get into it. I look at these lists of material things and think, oh boy, another piece of cargo.

What I really want, more than the most fabulous gift, more than having people I care about shower me with attention (whether in the form of trinkets or of stroking my hair and telling me I'm fabulous), more even than Twoo Wuv, is to finish this gosh-darned dissertation. I want to be done with this long slog. I want to be standing in front of my committee on feet that seem to be at a great distance from the rest of me, waiting for the question that's going to make me bite my lip and look at the ceiling and count backwards from ten before trying to answer, my voice coming out as an embarassing girlish squeak. And then I want to be finished. I want to stop struggling and pushing, just for a little bit. I want to stop comparing myself to people who seem to fly through this process so effortlessly. I keep reminding myself that when you get to the top of the mountain nobody's going to ask if you strode up in energetic bounds or if you crawled and tore your hands to shreds grasping at rocks and sometimes found yourself dangling over an abyss hanging on with your teeth--that the getting there is the key, not the grace or even the speed with which you travel. But I'd like in any case to be done with the climbing, just for a little while.

I'd also like a really big pastrami-on-rye sandwich. Fortunately I'm in Manhattan right now where such things are easy to come by.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

fun fact for today

Many grad students become excellent cooks.

It's true. Cooking is a pretty easy procrastination technique to rationalize--"well, I have to eat anyway, so I might as well make something good." Before you know it, you're throwing dinner parties for your twenty closest friends.

Or so I've heard. I wouldn't know anything about procrastination myself.

It's funny, though. Some procrastinators go so far as to start blogs and record CDs in their effort to avoid their stated goals. Could you imagine?

Now, should I put chocolate chips in this banana bread, or would that be overkill since it's already got walnuts and coconut?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Finished the cover art for The CD today. Mateusz is such an artist. Everything took a ridiculously long time, but the results make me squeal with glee. (Neill Cumpston would probably put my feelings into slightly different words.) All I can say is, if you're lucky enough to get one of these things, your head will explode.

Sunday, November 21, 2004


Doing a bit of the B- mass tomorrow (the benedictus) with my friend Kendra the kick-ass violinist. We're taking it at what seems to me to be a perilously slow tempo--but I think it's going to be tear- rather than yawn-inducing...or at least I hope so. Going back to that piece made me want to listen to the whole mass again--something I haven't done in ages. I'd try to say something about the music, but the only thing that comes to mind just now is, "Yep, that Bach guy did write some pretty nifty tunes."

and now, a moment of silence

As of ( now, one of the three men I've ever met and considered to be husband material, and the only one who was single when I met him, is married.

He is quite possibly the perfect man--except for the fact that he never seemed to notice my attempts to flirt with him.

Naturally, I wish him all possible happiness...and his wife a particularly nasty case of shingles.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

song texts

These are the songs from my recording session, described here. Some of the songs are here.

Looys Zuvart

Alleluia. Looys zuvart sourp parats anmahi,
Hor yergnavori, Hisous Krisdos.

Alleluia. O joyous light of the holy immortal glory of the heavenly Father,
the holy giver of life, Jesus Christ.

text:1st century Greek hymn
music: 5th century Armenian

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
Hold me with thy pow'rful hand.
Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside.
Death of death, and hell's destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan's side,
Songs of praises I will ever give to thee.

text: William Williams; translation from the Welsh by Peter Williams
music: Appalachian hymn tune

Mary had a baby

Mary had a baby—Sweet Lamb

Where did she lay him?—manger

What did she call him?—Jesus; everlasting Counsellor; mighty Prince of Peace.

traditional African-American spiritual

I wonder as I wander

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus our Saviour did come for to die
For poor orn’ry creatures like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ‘twas in a cow’s stall
With farmers and shepherds and wise men and all
And far in the heavens a star’s light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star from the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of the angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it for he was the King.

J. J. Niles, based on a traditional melody

Deeramayren hanteb vortvouyn ee khacheen, gayr derdmakeen,
Yev leselov uzdzaraveen, harachmamp layr tsavakeen.
Ee poosh besagen teedelov, voghp, godz, vay dayr your antsin:
“Atchatses louys, vortyag eem heesoos, voh yes unt kes meraneem.”

Facing her Son on the cross, the Mother of the Lord stood sadly,
and hearing Him cry out from thirst, she lamented in suffering.
Looking at the crown of thorns, she mourned and wailed:
“Woe is me! O Jesus, my child, the light of my eye, if only I could die for you!”

anonymous Armenian, late middle ages.


Every time I think about Jesus
Surely he died on Calvary.

Can’t you hear those hammers ringing?
Surely he died on Calvary.

Can’t you hear him calling his father?
Surely he died on Calvary.

traditional African-American spiritual

Patz mez, Der
Uztoren voghormootyan
Vor voghpalov gartamk ar kez.

Open for us, Lord,
The gate of your mercy
We beseech you imploringly.

anonymous Armenian, late middle ages.

I love the name

There is a name I love to hear
It soothes my doubts and it calms my fears
As I journey too and fro
I’ll take the name wherever I go
I love the name Jesus,
Every day the same, Jesus.
O how sweet is the precious name, Jesus.

When I have spoken my last word
And when my voice shall not be heard
Yes, death’s pains I’ll gladly bear
For I can read his name up there.

traditional African-American spiritual

I believe I'll go back home

I believe I'll go back home
And acknowledge there that I done wrong.

When I was in my Father’s house
I was well supplied.
I made a mistake in doing well,
Now I’m dissatisfied.

When I was in my Father’s house
I had bread enough to spare,
But now I sick and I hungry too
And ashamed to go back there.

traditional African-American spiritual

Confitebor Tibi

O Lord, I will praise Thee, though Thou wast angry with me,
Thine anger is turned away:
and Thou comfortedst me.

Behold, God is my salvation:
I will trust, and not be afraid.

For the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song:
He is also become my salvation.

Therefore with joy shall ye draw water:
out of the wells of salvation.

And in that day shall ye say, Praise the Lord, call upon His Name:
Declare his doings among the people, make mention that His Name is exalted.

Sing unto the Lord, for He hath done excellent things:
this is known in all the earth.

Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion:
for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.

text: Isaiah 12
music: Ned Rorem: from Canticles

Over my head

Over my head I hear music in the air
There must be a God somewhere.

traditional African-American spiritual

My lord, what a morning

My lord, what a morning
When the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the trumpet sound
To wake the nations underground.
Looking to my God’s right hand,
When the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the sinners mourn
To wake the nations underground.
Looking to my God’s right hand,
When the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the Christians shout
To wake the nations underground.
Looking to my God’s right hand,
When the stars begin to fall.

traditional African-American spiritual

Monday, November 15, 2004

Does this look familiar, Dad? Posted by Hello

Saturday, November 13, 2004


My day so far:
  • midnight: go to bed
  • 1:30 get up; pace; go back to bed
  • 3 get up; pace; go back to bed
  • 4 get up for real
  • 4:30 bike to the church (N.B. It was snowing. There was an inch or so on the ground, and more was falling. It wasn't enough to make conditions really dangerous, or to pose any major inconvenience; but it was enough to make me feel like a complete badass for biking through it)
  • 4:45 warm up in choir room
  • 5 venture into the nave, overcoming my irrational fear of going in there alone in the dead of night when it's pitch dark by reassuring myself that Matteusz would be there with some kind of light.
  • 5:01 realize that M was in fact not there
  • 5:02 debate going back to the choir room where I know for sure there are no monsters; instead go up to the balcony to get a music stand. It may be dark up there too, and there may be a pigeon skeleton on one of the window ledges in the staircase, but at least I know where the light switch is up there.
  • 5:03 M arrives, having been waiting for me outside (doh!); help him with last bits of setup; do soundcheck
  • 5:15 take off sneakers so they don't squeak when I shift my weight
  • 5:16 realize that this means I'm going to be standing in my socks on a frigid marble floor for three hours
  • 5:17 try to stand on the cuffs of my overlong jeans
  • 5:18 give up and comfort myself with thoughts of what a badass I am
  • 5:30 start doing real takes
  • 5:45 realize that the frequency of the sound the cars make driving past on the slushy streets overlaps with my sound in such a way as to make it impossible to edit out
  • 6 start first take of heartrending Armenian piece (Stabat Mater equivalent)
  • 6:02 bus pulls up at stoplight outside church, during poignant silence between phrases
  • 6:03 light changes, bus leaves
  • 6:04 begin second take
  • 6:05 garbage truck arrives at restaurant across street, in middle of thrillingly modal run
  • 6:07 garbage truck leaves
  • 6:08 begin third take
  • 6:09 first emergency vehicle of the day goes by; consider editing piece so that Mary, instead of saying "Oh Jesus, my son, the light of my eyes, would God I could die for thee," says "Hurry up and die already!"
  • 7 the bells chime the hour; while we're waiting for them to hush up, M asks if I need a break, and offers to bring me something hot to drink from the restaurant across the street. I decline, feeling like more of a baadass than ever
  • 7:30 M asks if I'm sure I don't want some coffee; I decline again
  • 8 finish, at the same time as my voice quits, give or take a song
  • 8:10 help M load his gear into his car
  • 8:15 take M out for coffee
  • 9 go back to bed, still gloating about being a badass

Friday, November 12, 2004

Various things about singing

I'm getting up in the middle of the night tonight to do my recording session before the traffic around the church gets too noisy. I'm having trouble concentrating on work this afternoon.


A friend asked me the other day if I'd sing at his wedding. I was thrilled. I asked when the wedding was going to be. He said it'd probably be sometime after he proposes next summer.

Well, you can't say he doesn't think ahead.


I've been working on coloratura a lot recently--pieces by Handel, Bach, and Mozart. It's funny how pieces that use pretty much the same technical vocabulary can still have such different characters. Handel is so much fun to sing, because he was clearly writing for people who love the sound of their own voice. His melodies lend themselves well to ornamentation. (It's possible that I tend to get carried away with this: Rob-the-organist teases me about putting enthusiasm before taste. ... well, guilty as charged, I guess.) Mozart, on the other hand, tends to write such luscious phrases that even I can't justify disfiguring them by adding anything to them. (In the piece I did last Sunday, I compensate for that restraint by adding a truly shockingly tasteless cadenza: runs up to a high C, then a two-octave descending scale and an octave-and-a-half leap up to the final trill....what can I say. It feels good.) And then again Bach never really seems to be writing for the voice at all. It's as if he always hears his tunes played on a violin; that, at any rate, would explain some of the patterns he expects his singers to handle.


The hardest part about singing is what happens in the silences.

In the spaces between the notes, the voices start: "Well that wasn't very good, was it? You call that an even tone? Who do you think you are, anyway, standing up here on your hind legs and expecting people to sit still and listen to you? Don't make me laugh. You should just sit down and be quiet and stop embarrassing yourself."

In that sense it’s pretty much like any other endeavour.
I1 try2 to be3 good4.


1: or at least one of me

2: sometimes I try harder than other times

3: I'm not sure what I think about the idea of being anything at all, actually. Do we have a nature separate from our actions? I'm not convinced. And yet I do think of "being" good in those ontological terms.

4: "good" varies wildly from moment to moment.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Wow. Boom. Just like that, I've descended into PMS-land. It's awfully inconvenient to start crying every fifteen minutes. Makes it hard to get any work done.

On the one hand, it's vexing to be clinically insane three days out of every month (only three? maybe I'm giving myself too much credit here), but on the other hand I'm grateful that it makes it impossible to have the illusion of objectivity. I don't know how guys keep it real, without this periodic (heh) reality (surreality?) check. Every time I'm tempted to start listening to what my brain tells me, this phase of the moon rolls around again, and what my brain starts telling me becomes so patently absurd that it's just impossible to take it seriously.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


I realized why I've been so placid about the election results: I'm in denial. It can't have happened, therefore it didn't happen.

Pro-life people can't have voted for someone who supports the death penalty (or, as some of my orkut buddies have taken to calling it, "post-natal abortion". Reframing at its finest. If you oppose late-term abortion, how could you possibly suppport post-term abortion?).
People who support the troops can't have voted for someone who needlessly puts them in harm's way and then denies them disability benefits.
People whose priority is "moral values" can't have voted for a liar and a murderer.
Fiscal conservatives can't have voted for someone who's running up the deficit.
Christians can't have voted for someone who wants to deny equal rights to gays, thereby ignoring the spirit of what St. Paul said: "In Christ there is neither male nor female, neither Greek nor Jew, neither slave nor free."
People who take pride in the Constitution can't have voted for someone who wants to rewrite it to undermine equality.
Privacy advocates can't have voted for someone who's pushing the PATRIOTic snooping act.

Well. I'm glad we've got that cleared up.

Oh, and on another topic, if you're getting depressed looking at those huge swaths of red territory on election-results maps, take a gander here. These maps are by population, not surface area. Trippy!


So this past weekend was T-regina's wedding. It was a lovely event. Everyone said it was the nicest wedding they'd been to. Some of the sentimental ones added "--except for my own."

The whole thing was held at a hotel, a v. nice hotel out in the scenic hilly area outside of Hartford. The pictures were done before the wedding, when none of the mothers had ruined their makeup yet by crying, and when nobody was having to fend off gangs of wellwishers with a Tazer. The wedding itself was approximately ten minutes long--actually too short for anyone to even get started crying; even me. (I'm so sentimental. I always cry at weddings. Just the idea that there are people who can promise eternal love and fidelity, even if I don't trust myself to ever make those promises, is enough to set me off--love exists! waah!--and when the couple being married are my best friends...well, I fully expected to be a mess. And unfortunately my bridesmaid's dress didn't have anywhere to stash a large handkerchief.)

After the ceremony was over, we all had cocktails while the chairs in the hall were being rearranged for dinner. And after dinner (and actually before and during dinner--the DJ was most enthusiastic) there was dancing at the end of the hall. It was very handy having everything in the same couple of rooms; not to mention the fact that everyone could wander upstairs and pass out when they'd had too much to drink, instead of having to worry about cabs and ruining their hairdos by going outside.

And thinking of hairdos...T & her mom & I all went that morning to get our hair done. I'd never actually had that done before. It was an hour and a half well spent. And the hairdresser made sure to use an extra gallon of hairspray to make sure the curls would stay put. The result was that, since I was too lazy to take out the hairpins before I went to bed that night, the hairdo was still intact the next morning. Almost frightening, really.

The event started off with the rehearsal dinner. It was at an Indian restaurant where T&M are on intimate terms with all the employees, having gone there at least once a week for the past four years. At the end of the meal I took the opportunity to make the speech that T had forbidden me to make at the wedding reception. ... I am going to quote myself here, because I just love listening to myself talk.

T first met M at a party at my place. She came up to me and said, "Who on earth is that cute guy who came in with Will???"

I thought for a minute: cute guy, cute guy...uh.....

"And," she continued, "he has a british accent!"

I knew then that it was fate.

I didn't get to talk to M at all that night--T monopolized him entirely--but the next day I got to hear all about him. Specifically, I got to hear about their plans to go out that night, and to reassure T that just because she had had to initiate the good night kiss didn't necessarily mean that he wasn't into her: he just might be the kind of boy who doesn't kiss until the first date. I also got to help her decide what kind of underwear to wear to their date [self-conscious giggles from both T&M here].

I added something about "may everyone who finds a relationship as right as this one, have it recognized and supported by their friends and family," which was part of my pro-gay-marriage brainwashing campaign, and which seemed to go over the heads of the people who might have benefitted from it. Oh well. (I was considering taking it up a level by responding to one of the "And when are you going to get married?" comments with "Whenever I meet the right girl," but I really didn't want to know how some of the folks there would react to a statement like that. T's family are from Texas and Kansas, and I spent the whole weekend avoiding conversations about politics and religion; I didn't also want to have to avoid conversations about human rights.)

The other thing that happened was that I skipped the dance, in order to avoid an awkward social situation. I was disappointed to not get to boogie with T & her friends, but figured it was tidier this way. And anyway, the weekend was more about mudita than about personal enjoyment. That's what a bridesmaid's there for.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


After the wedding I was on a photographic roll. I took my camera up East Rock to give it some fresh air, and to see how the autumn leaves looked from up there--glorious, as it turns out. I took a bunch of pictures, and they're pretty enough, but they don't communicate the experience of being there. Even if I were to post the pix with pretentious allusive captions like

Danae Posted by Hello

you still wouldn't get the effect. Maybe if I were a better photographer I would be able to capture the way the leaves seemed to be lit from within rather than from above. But as it is, even telling you directly what the experience was like for me--how the crinkled-tinfoil river and the spicy smell of fallen leaves and the lift and rush of the wind made my heart into a bird that was beating its wings against the cage of my chest--won't make you feel what I felt.

I've been thinking a lot recently about how to use words to communicate experience. It's possible that I'd be farther ahead just now if I were to think about using words to write my gosh-darn dissertation.

Monday, November 08, 2004


So I finally went to the International Students' Office to see what their phone messages meant. Turns out I'm a criminal! Yep, my visa expired back in August, so ever since then I've been working illegally. I'm supposed to go to Canada soon to get new forms. I'm wondering whether I can convince them that Christmas is soon--because, man, do I love the feeling of being on the wrong side of the law.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

All Souls' Day

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord's possession.

Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O LORD;
Lord, hear my voice.

God is our hope and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved,

and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea.

Whither shall I go then from thy Spirit?
or whither shall I go then from thy presence?
If I climb up into heaven, thou art there;

if I go down to hell, thou art there also.
If I take the wings of the morning,

and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there also shall thy hand lead me,

and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Peradventure the darkness shall cover me,

then shall my night be turned to day.
Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as day;

the darkness and light to thee are both alike.

Sitting here obsessively checking election preliminary results. Feeling slightly ill at the thought of so many people voting for Bush even after the past four years.

Monday, November 01, 2004


Today is another one of those days where I walk around with my camera in my bag all day and don't take a single picture. There's no point. There's no way I could capture in pixels the experience of the sunshine today. The wind and the sun and the clouds and the leaves make me start singing The trumpet shall sound: there's the same swirling ominous radiance.

Sunday, October 31, 2004


battered glasses that sit kinda askew
hair up in a clip because I was too lazy to dry it at the gym
makeup? ha!
jeans that have faded funny
shapeless sweater that smells like a sweaty sheep has been living in my basement.

shoes that make walking like sex, in that it's all about the hip motion and it's painful if you do it for too long
black velvet pants that scream "Booty!"
black satin halter top
black feather boa
hair down and curled
deep red lipstick and glittery eyeshadow

Conclusion: I may be frumpilicous day to day, but damn do I clean up good.

The occasion was T-Regina's batchelorette party. It was a good time. Everyone thought so at the time, and the next morning I still think so, although T probably disagrees. She had such touching faith in a hangover-preventing pill she'd just bought that she had two large margaritas with dinner and who knows what all afterwards. One of those margaritas is enough to make me feel ill, and she's smaller than I am....I'd never actually held anyone's hair for them before. T is as sensible drunk as she is sober, and she insisted that we get her into the bathtub so that she could retch in comfort. I slept with her, to make sure she didn't come to grief in the night. (Nothing casts a pall over a wedding like the bride choking on her own vomit the weekend before.)

In the morning I walked from the hotel to the church, still in my going-out-on-the-town getup. I thought for a millisecond about putting my feather boa in my purse, but realized that it'd stick out and make me look like I was shoplifting a crow--and besides, I've wanted a feather boa my whole life; now that I have one I'm going to wear that motherfucker. As I was walking down the street, a homeless guy biked up to me and said to me, "Damn you got it goin' on." I couldn't stop grinning the rest of the way to church. What a great way to start the day.

Times like these, though, do make me start thinking into the future. Given that there's a strong probability that I'll live into my nineties, and given that few people are likely to tell me I've got it goin' on when I'm in the nursing home,...what will that be like? Will I be able to keep a sense of myself as fundamentally attractive and worthwhile when there's no external validation coming in?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

inventory control

So recently there's been a lot of construction in my lab. Some equipment has been being moved around, and I thought you might be interested in the sophisticated inventory control mechanism that's in place at a top scientific research institute.

full view Posted by Hello

zoom on label Posted by Hello

handling instructions Posted by Hello

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Sang at a funeral today, with the choir. I didn't know the person we were singing for (even though he's apparently the one who's been paying me and most of the choir for the past two years--yeah. This parish does have some wealthy members), but even without any emotional context for the service it's impossible to make it through the committal prayer without weeping:

Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of mankind;

and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return.
For so thou didst ordain when thou createdst me, saying,
"Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

...fortunately we'd done all our singing by then, except for the closing hymn.
Oh, and the sermon was inaudible from where we were sitting, so I amused myself by picking out the hymns for my own funeral: Slane, Lasst uns Erfreuen, Hyfrodol, Land of Rest...I think that's it. (and yes, those names won't mean anything to you if you haven't spent a while singing in Anglican churches. Sorry. But trust me, they're rockin' tunes.)

Saturday, October 23, 2004

out-Niles-ing Niles

Scene: a friend's living room
Friend and I are watching Frazier.
Niles enters, in a swish of trench coat and long scarf.
Frazier greets him. "Ah, Niles, how was La Traviata?"
"Terrible," replies Niles. "The soprano couldn't hit the E-flat to save her life."
I sit bolt-upright and exclaim, outraged, "That E-flat is completely optional."

When my friend stopped laughing and picked himself up off the floor, he explained that the point of the character of Niles was to be geekier and more particular than any human being could possibly be, and that I had just out-Nilesed him.


funny how defining moments sneak up on you like that.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

if I, if I've been unkind
I hope you can just let it go by
if I, if I've been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you

I've been listening compulsively to k.d. lang's new CD since the day I bought it, back in August. This bit of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a wire" particularly grabbed me. And yet, when you reduce the lyrics to their essentials, they end up sounding like

Roses are red
violets are blue
if I've been untrue
it was never to you

In his lyrics in general there's this wild combination of images that stop you in your tracks like a punch to the gut and other images that seem like he came up with them (a) out of nowhere or (b) to fit with the rhyme scheme he'd established.

--but then, I'm probably a generation late for the "is L.C. a genius or a hack?" debate.

(edit: a bunch of people seem to be finding this blog by searching for "Leonard Cohen Hallelujah" (or "alleluia" as the case may be). As a public service, here is a webpage that has words and guitar chords. Some of the words on that page are different from the versions that I have, but they make a good start anyway. Besides LC's own recording, and k.d. lang's on the CD above, there's lovely versions by Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright, and also the version that was used in the movie "Shrek" (apparently not RW although his version is on the CD soundtrack)--and I'm sure there are others that I don't know about.
There. enjoy.)

an explanation

"It makes perfect sense," says Karl. "You're a filthy pig, just like me."

That clears it right up.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Susan's trip to South Africa with Earthwatch

Pictures from my grade-school friend Susan's recent trip to Cape Town with Earthwatch, banding penguins and cleaning up beaches for "work" and whalewatching for fun. The whalewatching was land-based: Hermanus advertises itself as the best land-based whalewatching in the world.

Monday, October 18, 2004

saved by grace

Amazing. Among the phone calls I didn't expect to get today, this one was near the top of the list.

A few months ago I hurt a friend of mine pretty badly, and he in turn said some pretty hurtful things to and about me. (How hurtful? Well, a month later the nightmares had pretty much stopped.) Once he'd gotten all the bile out of his system I thought I was never going to hear from him again (except for the little part of me that kept tensing up in expectation of finding him on my doorstep with a chainsaw). So today he called me up, seemingly at random, to apologize for what he said. We actually ended up having a civilized chat. It remains to be seen whether we'll get to be friends again, but to know that he's moved on is a huge relief to me.

After I got off the phone with him, I went to do errands for an hour or so, to enjoy the sunshine and to stop shaking.

And this morning (...was it really only this morning? it seems like about ten thousand years ago) I finally showed my supervisor the stuff that I've been slaving over recently, in spite of the fact that it still seems to me to be a steaming pile of dog poo. He didn't laugh at me; in fact, he seemed to be impressed by what I've gotten out of the data so far. Huh.

The rest of the week is going to be grey and rainy and miserable, but today the sun is shining and the trees are gaudy. And I have parties and recitals to plan, and fewer people who hate me than I believed, and it's even possible that I may actually finish this disertation someday.
"My" cats have very distinct tastes and preferences. Here's some typical dialogue:

me: Who's your favourite world leader?
Ying (or Yang: they both seem to feel the same): Mao!
me: Who's your favourite composer?
Y: Milhaud!
me: Who's your favourite surrealist artist?
Y: Miro!
me: what would you chant at an anti-capitalist rally?
Y: Mao! Mao! Mao!

I tell them to mix it up a bit, maybe listen to some Debussy or check out some Dali, but they just give me big-eyed looks of reproach.

(I'm sorry. this is truly terrible. I'll get back to work now.)
Veni, Creator Spiritus,
mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratiaquae
tu creasti pectora.

Qui diceris Paraclitus,
altissimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, caritas,
et spiritalis unctio.

Accende lumen sensibus:
infunde amorem cordibus:
infirma nostri corporis
virtute firmans perpeti.

it can't come too soon, that's all I can say.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

--C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Sunday, October 10, 2004

--but my underwear was my own

Last night I got all spiffed up to go out for dinner. My roommate complimented on my top. I said, "Thanks, it was my grandmother's...and so was the handbag...and the jacket was T-Regina's...and the pants were Elisa-bête's." I never have to go shopping because I've cultivated friends who have lots of clothes to hand down to me.

On a similar note: on one of my rare shopping trips, I was trying on a sweater that I quite liked, and said to the shop girl, "Wow, it's like something my grandmother would have worn." She was nonplussed, until I explained that that's actually a good thing.

the roses of discord

awesome. Even when I try to do something nice, I end up sowing discord. Call me Eris.

Let me start at the beginning, or somewhere near it. I spent several days recently staying with a friend in Manhattan. It was rather cramped quarters, because my friend's roommate's husband was visiting from Germany. When I got home, I sent flowers to her to thank her for putting up with me and to apologize for cutting into her alone-time with her husband. I think the wording of the note I sent with the card was something like "thank you for sharing your space with me." I assumed my name would be put on the card automatically. Well. Apparently not. So now her husband thinks she's getting large bouquets from secret admirers.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Jesus H. Christ

So it seems that no matter how much work I put into this simulation, it still will not give physical results. Right now it's telling me that particles GAIN energy as they pass through matter. uh....

I know there's something simple that I've done wrong; in fact I have a hunch about what exactly that is; but it is still VERY VEXING that I STILL have not gotten this thing right. grr.

*deep breaths*

Okay. I think I don't *necessarily* need to throw the computer through the window and run off to Bolivia. If I change my mind, I'll let you know.

Gaping Void

gapingvoid: about gapingvoid/fave cartoons etc.

oh dear.

"'I can't take this shit anymore,' he said, mistakenly."

sheer brilliance.

Friday, October 08, 2004

on call

so last night when I was leaving the lab after my shift I told X to call me if there were any problems.

Silly me.

At 3:30 I get a phone call. The data disc was full, and there was a problem communicating with the acquisition computer. I spent an hour talking him through the various stages of debugging, and struggling to not mix my instructions with the dreams I'd been having. "So first you need to check the cathode signal on the oscilloscope, and then you need to put out gummi bears for the unicorns....but only lemon ones....."

The accelerating expansion of the universe

Why should it bother Martin Fairweather? In his long, literate lifetime he had read of many revisions of cosmic theory. Edwin Hubble's discovery of universal expansion had occurred a few years before he was born; by the time of his young manhood the theory of the Big Bang, with its overtones of Christian Creation by fiat--"Let there be light"--had prevailed over the rather more Buddhist steady-state theory claiming that space itself produced, out of nothingness, one hydrogen atom at a time. In recent decades, in astronomy as in finance, billions had replaced millions as the useful unit: a billion galaxies, a billion stars in each. Ever stronger telescopes, including one suspended in space and named after Hubble, revealed a swarm of fuzzy ovals, each a Milky Way. Such revelations, stupefying for those who tried truly to conceive of the distances and time spans, the amounts of brute matter and of vacancy seething with virtual particles, had held for Fairweather the far-fetched hope of a last turn: a culminating piece in the greaty skyey puzzle would vindicate Mankind's sensation of central importance and disclose a titanic mercy lurking behind the cosmic arrangements.

But the fact, discovered by two independent teams of researchers, seemed to be that not only did deep space show no relenting in the speed of the farthest galaxies but instead a detectable acceleration, so that an eventual dispersion of everything into absolute cold and darkness could be confidently predicted. We are riding a pointless explosion to nowhere. Only an invisible, malevolent anti-gravity, a so-called Dark Force [Updike means "dark energy", but his version is more poetic], explained it. Why should Fairweather take it personally? The universe would by a generous margin outlive him--that had always been true. But he had somehow relied on eternity, on there being an eternity even if he wasn't invited to participate in it. The accelerating expansion of the universe imposed an ignominious, cruelly diluted finitude on the enclosing vastness. The eternal hypothetical structures--God, Paradise, the moral law within--now had utterly no base to stand on. All would melt away. He, no mystic, had always taken a sneaky comfort in the idea of a universal pulse, an alternating Big Bang and Big Crunch, each time recasting matter into an unimaginably small furnace, a sub-atomic point of fresh beginning. Now this comfort was taken from him, and he drifted into a steady state--an estranging fever, scarcely detectable by those around him--of depression.

--John Updike, published in the October Harper's.
He's one of the few writers around who delights in writing about science--see also his poem Cosmic Gall about neutrinos. (There again he takes liberties: neutrinos do in fact interact, and they do have mass, although that wasn't known when he wrote the poem.)

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Everything I need to know I learned from my father

Coriander goes with everything.

Don't practice random kindness. Practice systematic, deliberate kindness.

Sometimes a good cry really does help.

People hush up when you sing to them. (Note: this is particularly useful when you've got a colicky baby on your hands.)

It's never a bad idea to stop for a think break.

If something's worth doing, it's worth doing

  • with your whole heart
  • with great precision
  • with apparent ease

Money is just marks on paper. Music starts out that way too. The difference is that the bank can't take away the stuff you get from music.

(Nevertheless, more money is always better than less money.)

You don't have to have all the answers as long as you have a general idea of what the questions are.

Cynical doesn't equal sophisticated. Enthusiastic doesn't equal naive.

If you're looking for attention, "Bother", "Rats", and "Phooey" are better bets than more conventional obscenities.

It's never too early or too late to learn another instrument.

Everyone always speaks in code. If you pay attention, they'll give you their code book.

Even if you proofread and proofread again, it's still possible to produce a "Thrid Quarter Report" so you might as well relax and not be such a perfectionist.

Music is best heard from the inside.

There's no such thing as too much garlic.

n.b. Several of these things I can't yet claim to have learned from him. Maybe someday.

(This is a version of something I wrote for him for his birthday many years ago. I was going to wait and post it on his birthday this year, but time is hanging heavily on my hands tonight and I'm impatient. So happy un-birthday, Dad!)

off-roading in a Lada what my brother has been doing recently. He's in Kazakhstan at the moment, until he jaunts off to St. Petersburg tomorrow. He's been travelling a bit with another Canadian he met there--a photographer, with pictures of his travels on his website.

And people go all goggly-eyed when I say I'm going to Sicily.

shymbulak Posted by Hello

recording session

I'm planning to do a recording session sometime this semester--possibly on Thanksgiving Day when there's less traffic noise around the church. It'll be all unaccompanied pieces. The program I'm thinking of is

Looys Zuvart (Phos hilaron) -- Armenian
Guide me, o thou great Jehovah -- folk
I believe I'll go back home -- spiritual
Lift thine eyes -- trio; Mendelssohn
I wonder as I wander -- folk
Mary had a baby -- spiritual
Deeramayren (Stabat mater) -- Armenian
Calvary -- spiritual
When it was yet dark -- trio; Stephen Hatfield
Confitebor tibi -- Ned Rorem
Patz mez, Der (Open the gates of mercy) -- Armenian
My Lord, what a morning -- spiritual

The problem with a program of just unaccompanied pieces is that, quite apart from the limited range of sounds involved, the range of moods is fairly narrow--from "gently hopeful" to "seriously bummed-out"--nary a rockin' piece on the list. Listening to the whole thing at one go might induce catatonia. But we'll see. It'll be fun to do, anyway. And I'll be happy to distribute copies to them as wants 'em. Line forms to the left.

Night shift

So I'm babysitting the experiment tonight, which means I get to spend eight hours with a functional computer and an only semi-fuctional brain. Time to tell stories!

A good friend's mother had a stroke recently. Everyone was very worried about her. She finally regained consciousness, and the doctors started asking her basic questions to see if her brain was still working right. When they asked, "Who is the President?" her response was "That terrible man who's sending our boys to die in Iraq for no good reason." They realized that she was going to be back to her old self in no time.

I've been playing with personality tests again. I knew INFJ was a match when I got to the part about how INFJs always think they're right and found myself exclaiming, "But I am always right!"
(But reading Salon's recent interview with the author of "Cult of personality" made me think again about my fascination with these tests.)

This past Sunday was my first singing in months. I was afraid that I'd be dreadfully out of practice after a summer in which I sang exactly twice. So of course I did the logical thing and scheduled a hard showy piece with lots of exposed runs. uh...yeah. ("Let the bright seraphim", if you're keeping track.) It actually went really well. I love singing with a trumpet. There's no need for restraint or finesse, like if you're singing with a flute--just let 'er rip!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

First they came for the Muslims, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Muslim.
Then they came to detain immigrants indefinitely solely upon the certification of the Attorney General, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an immigrant.
Then they came to eavesdrop on suspects consulting with their attorneys, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a suspect.
Then they came to prosecute non-citizens before secret military commissions, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a non-citizen.
Then they came to enter homes and offices for unannounced "sneak and peak" searches, and I didn't speak up because I had nothing to hide.
Then they came to reinstate Cointelpro and resume the infiltration and surveillance of domestic religious and political groups, and I didn't speak up because I had stopped participating in any groups.
Then they came for anyone who objected to government policy because it aided the terrorists and gave ammunition to America's enemies, and I didn't speak up because...I didn't speak up.
Then they came for me...and by that time there was no one left to speak up.

--Stephen Rohde, constitutional lawyer and past president of the ACLU of southern California, after the Rev. Martin Niemoller

Monday, October 04, 2004


There have been a couple of interesting ones recently, and one more is coming up. T-Regina and her Matt are tying the knot in a few weeks, and I'm going to be a bridesmaid (which is only fair, since I introduced them). I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to get her to a strip club for a batchelorette party, given that her wedding's on a Friday. But I will find a way. It is necessary that there be naked men before the wedding.

Weekend before last I sang in the choir at the wedding of a guy I've sung with for several years. (He's a music history professor, specializing in 70s and 80s british pop music. He's fond of sitting at the choir room piano and playing Yes songs and giving a harmonic analysis as he plays. Ah, the people one meets in grad school....) The choir was made up of alumni/ae of the church choir: they all have a long history of working with each other and with the director, and so fall right back into the groove, even though it's been (in some cases) years since they've sung here regularly. And of course they're all splendid musicians. What this all means: We managed to rehearse a psalm (tricky Anglican chant), the Sanctus and Agnus of a Howells mass, a Messaien motet (hard crunchy intervals and sustained tones), and a loooong Finzi motet (not really a hard sing, but one needed one's wits about one)--in under an hour. Oh, and the hymns, with a descant, but we just talked through those. Obviously the choir will all sightread the parts with correct phrasing, and that's all there is to hymn singing. It's such a joy to be with a group where the default setting is "correct".

And of course the bride looked radiant and sobbed through the vows, and the groom's small nephews were adorable ring-bearers, and the friends of the family contributed lovely music to the reception. But nice as this wedding was, it wasn't half as moving as one I sang at in June. The couple were utterly radiant with joy. I'd never really thought either of them were attractive, until that day, when I saw what they look like when they're brimful of love. One of them was weeping through most of the ceremony--as were half of the choir, as was I (I was able to pull myself together enough to sing only when I started getting annoyed at the inept conductor). Everyone there clearly had a sense of being part of something special.

And to think that there are some people who would like to deny this recognition of their union to my friends Christopher and Brian.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


When I came home this afternoon, all three cats were lined up at the door. Shaitan actually did make a break for freedom. I managed to catch him, without letting the other cats out, before he started exploring the corner where the rat met its end--but somehow I locked myself out of the apartment. The scary thing was that it took me about thirty seconds to break in, even holding a struggling kitten in one hand. (I'm not going to tell you how I broke in because some of you know where I live...then again, there's nothing worth stealing....)

I wish someone had filmed the episode. It must have been hilarious to see me trying to reason with Shaitan. "Look, you, the more you struggle the longer this is going to take, so settle down!...No, I am absolutely not going to let you go try to catch those birds, so don't even think about wriggling free....I know you're excited to be outside, but please, just be reasonable for once, okay?"

update on the little devil

Shaitan has taken to sitting on my feet while I'm making breakfast. (Yes, on, not at. He doesn't think I'm likely enough to notice him if I'm just tripping over him; he has to actually keep me from moving.) I still haven't figured out if this is because he knows there's food around and he's greedy, or if it's that he missed me and wants to say good morning, or if it's just that he's bored as heck and has already antagonized the other cats enough.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

dude, what you're telling me is that if I take out a line of code that reverses how the centre-of-mass to lab frame transformation is done, I won't get the right angular distributions? huh. And that if I don't realize that this is what I've done, I'll waste several days debugging? huh.

I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again: Life would be a whole lot easier if I were just a bit smarter.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

hurricanes as agents of divine retribution

Whose side is God on? This chart gives us some clues. Hey, I'm just presenting facts here, people. We report, you decide.
I asked Debra tonight, "Do I shock you all of the time, or just most of the time?" I think she agreed that it was closer to most than to some. Maybe it was my abortion comment that tipped the balance--about how it should be not legal but mandatory. ... just a hunch.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

an airborne Shaitan is sooo close to killing that shadow Posted by Hello

cats, the pinnacle of evolution

I was putting some stuff into the hall cupboard just now when I noticed Shaitan stalking me. This isn't unusual. My toes are some of his favourite toys. Turned out what he was actually stalking was my shadow--the bright little lamp on top of the cupboard was making my hands cast most intriguing shadows on the wall. He demonstrated his hunting prowess with lightning-quick pounces and four-foot-high leaps, and yet somehow was left with nothing to show for all his effort--except for the pictures.

Yes, that's right. I've become one of those people who takes pictures of their cats.

But really, he's got some truly impressive hunting skills. I think my favourite move is when he gets so excited by chasing something that's moving in a circular pattern that he himself starts spinning in a circle, chasing his own tail. The one where he assumes a lying-slumped-on-his-side posture, so that he can either bat at his quarry with one paw, or take a nap, as the situation demands, is pretty good too.

I can't understand why cats don't run the planet.

Monday, September 20, 2004


I'd just like to gloat over the success of my hangover-averting endeavours. Staying up until 4 am drinking water meant that at 10 am I was happy to go out for breakfast with T&M. ... I kept trying to tell them that my resilience was proof that with age comes wisdom. They say that's true as long as I mean wisdom teeth.

It's wonderful that enough water protects one from the bad effects of overindulging in alcohol. Now if only there were a similar remedy for cheesecake....

Sunday, September 19, 2004

...and of course where TF is my water glass? uuhhhhh.....

so many questions

After a v. pleasant though not particularly rowdy party, I'm left with many questions. For example: Why did eveyone have to leave before midnight, when I clearly was not going to sober up anytime before 4 am.? Why did I think it was a good idea to eat that cheesecake on top of that ...was it pizza? most likely? How did I let myself be talked into those three last shots of akvavit? And perhaps most compellingly, do I never learn?

... all of which, of course, can be summed up as, WTF?

so many firsts

wow. so. both my first competetive shot-drinking AND my first phone-number acquisition as a thirty-something.

Not to mention my first drunken log-on to blogger.....

what a crazy world we live in

I loovvveee you guys. All of yu!

Friday, September 17, 2004

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

--Emily Bronte

Thursday, September 16, 2004


"The history of one's hatreds constitutes the single most important, most comprehensible, and most stable sense of identity for many people and nations. [To the ego, hatred is seductive, a] self-chosen bondage to another,...serving to structure the psyche. [Love can bring true attachment and meaning; hatred is] a cheap imitation of love....Hatred makes hopelessness meaningful, and thus bearable. You, my enemy, are going to become the coffin for my feelings."

--C. Fred Alford, professor of political psychology at U Maryland, quoted in the Sept/Oct Yale Alumni Magazine

this is getting boring

So for the third night in a row--and the...uh...twentieth? night in the past six months--I woke up at 2 am convinced that there was a big spider six inches from my face. Once again, I turned on all the lights, checked my bed for bugs, and waited for my heartbeat to stop deafening me so that I could go back to sleep. It's happened often enough now that I'm getting good at convincing myself that I was still asleep when I saw the monstrous hairy arthropod: it took me only half an hour to get back to sleep. Also, interestingly, the spiders I'm "seeing" are now just pretty big, whereas the first few that showed up ranged in size from "will suck my eyeballs out without a second thought" to "oh dear Lord I don't want to live in a world that contains critters like that" to "Shelob".

But really, this is all exceedingly vexing. Why should I get so freaked out by dream-spiders when I'm not arachnophobic in waking life? And it's so repetetive. I'm screaming to my brain, "I get it! I know I'm stressed out! Now can't you mix things up a bit? Make me dream of plane crashes, or accidents at chemical plants, or Republicans." But no. Spiders it is.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

from "post-modern" to "pre-apocalyptic"

So I just opened msn messenger, and one of the headlines on the ...well, we'll be kind and call it that opens up at the same time was: "Is your kid old enough for makeup? Find out if lipstick is appropriate for elementary school."



Is this a sign of the impending apocalypse?

Monday, September 13, 2004

I live with Satan

So my new roommates (who are very nice) brought with them two cats. The cats are brother and sister from the same litter, Ying (orange male with hindquarters that look like they were put on wrong--he kind of waddles) and Yang (black female) by name. Big, with big soulful eyes, and indolently inquisitive dispositions. Also declawed, and prone to streeeeeetching uuuuup to sharpen their claws against a wall...and of course sliding down ignominiously--cute, but not bright. Just when Ying and Yang were getting the hang of their new digs, my roommates adopted a stray kitten. (The grocer down the street had been feeding it, and figured it needed a permanent home.) This new little one is a ball of energy. He's very curious and very quick and very playful, which means that tying your shoes has become a hazardous activity: even if he's in the other room when you start, by the time you finish he will likely have appeared and started wrestling the shoelace away from you. He's been terrorizing Ying and Yang. Well, he thinks of it as "playing with", but he has claws and they don't, and they're clearly losing sleep over the situation. Quite apart from his disposition, his outsized ears give him a rather devilish appearance. Finally my roommates decided that the only possible name for him is Shaitan. I love it. It makes me giggle to say, "Who's a good little Shaitan? Does Shaitan want to be scratched under his chin? Who's my creampuff?"

Sunday, September 12, 2004

random memory

K (pointing at E): Other!
E: You can't other me. I'm going to other you! (pointing at K) Other!
K: Don't mess with my hermeneutics.
E: Dude!

That snippet--part of a dinner conversation five years ago, in the graduate-student dorm here--just popped into my head for some reason. It encapsulates my experience of living there. Happy days....

wouldn't YOU be totally psyched too?

So last week I finally talked to the music director at my church about what he wants me to do there for the remainder of my time in town. We agreed that I'd do the same thing as last year: two song each week as part of the early mass. The moment I hung up the phone I started rooting through my music...uh...well, actually, my database....see, I have this spreadsheet set up for all my church repertoire, with columns for texts and translations and biographical information and a couple of words about the theological point being made.....yeah. Life has been much easier since I've just accepted that I'm a geek. Anyway, I picked out a bunch of my favourite pieces from the past five years of doing this kind of thing at that church, and ended up with the following:

  • a lied by Wolf
  • four arias by Handel ("O thou that tellest", "Let the bright seraphim", "But who may abide", and "Comfort Ye/Every Valley", if anyone's keeping score; and yes, they are each written for an entirely different voice type)
  • two arias and a trio by Mendelssohn (and no I'm not going to sing all three parts of the trio, smartass)
  • the first movement of Mozart's "Exsultate, Jubilate"
  • only one Bach aria (!)
  • three pieces of mediaeval Armenian liturgical music
  • three spirituals
  • two of Copland's "Old American Songs"
  • half a dozen other random things

I'm totally psyched to have a reason to get back into practice singing. The choir director laughed at me, though, when, the day after we talked, I showed up at church with a binder for him, containing copies of all of the pieces for the rest of the semester, complete with little post-it flags labelling each piece. geeeeeeek.....

Saturday, September 11, 2004

This is me walking down the street

May all beings be happy and peaceful
May all beings be healthy and well
May all beings live in safety
May all beings live with ease...

Get out of the way, ya fat cow! Stop cluttering up the sidewalk with your stroller and your two big dogs! This isn't your living room, for heaven's sake! Some of us have places to go!

Where was I?

May all beings be free from suffering
May all beings be free from the causes of suffering...

food porn

Once again I find myself eating the following things for lunch:

whole wheat/sun-dried tomato bread (homemade)
basil/walnut pesto (homemade)
roasted red peppers (homemade)
fresh orange grape (?) tomatoes (from the farmers' market)

Dinner is going to include a salad made from roasted beets of various kinds (from the farmers' market again).

Are grad students even allowed to eat this well? Isn't there some line in our contracts that specifies that we must subsist primarily on ramen?

Friday, September 10, 2004


I'm turning thirty next weekend. That started to seem like a milestone only very recently. I'm hoping people will use it as an excuse to make a fuss over me. There's no such thing as too much attention, if you ask me. T-Regina is going to have a party for the two of us--mine until midnight, hers thereafter--making it the sixth year running that the two of us have celebrated together. Miss Manners says it's in appalling taste to use these events as an excuse to shake down one's friends. I shall therefore make no mention of my Amazon wishlist.

Why they're happy:

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Present and Unaccountable

I spent the last week of August at a retreat at the IMS. It was...well, here are some different levels of summary:

Casual conversation:
The retreat was fabulous! Very intense. I didn't want to leave. I'm going to have to go back as soon as I can.

Somewhat more in-depth:
The setting is idyllic. The retreat centre is in rural Massachussetts, a few miles outside of Barre. The centre itself is a big old house that was first built as someone's weekend home, then taken over by a monastery (if I remember correctly) and eventually bought by IMS in the seventies. Around the centre are farms--there's one place that seems to train horses and give horse riding lessons, there's another place that has a roadside stand where you can buy tomatoes, and there's another place that sells maple syrup. The only thing all the farm houses have in common is that they without exception have animal statues in their front yards. Seems a bit redundant, given that there are real live deer and rabbits and turkeys that are very likely to be in someone's yard on any given day.

The schedule was intense. Up at 5:15 (the bell actually started ringing at 5:05; the first morning I heard the bell, saw that it was dark outside, looked at my bedside clock, and said out loud "You have GOT to be kidding me"), sit for half an hour, breakfast, chores (or "washing-dishes meditation", as I came to think of it), then alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation for the rest of the day, with breaks for lunch and tea, and some instruction by the teachers, and the occasional chance to speak directly to the teachers.

The teachers were brilliant. As compassionate and insightful as you'd expect of meditation teachers, with all kinds of personal anecdotes that were useful and insightful (sitting with fear and aversion when her meditation hut in Thailand was invaded by a large lizard; a teacher's experience sending metta to a tiger that wanted to share his walking-meditation path with him). The only funny thing about them was their Boston accents. They weren't noticible at first, besides a slightly mush-mouthed approach to consonants, but eventually I realized that they were telling us to pay attention to our "tho-wats." I had a hard time not grinning every time that word came up.

The walking meditation often made me grin too. To stay mindful of what our bodies were doing, it was often helpful to walk very slowly. The result was that there were a hundred people walking baaaaack....aaaand.....foorrrthhhh....looking like nothing so much as the Ministry of Silly Walks, Slow Division. (I nominated myself the Undersecretary in Charge of Falling Over for No Reason.)

The other retreatants gave me a lot of stuff to think about...or rather, led to a lot of thoughts arising. There were a lot more young people there than the last time I went--even one kid who'd just begun college, but over a dozen in their (our) late twenties. There wasn't all that much variety in backgrounds (Rick the pipe-fitter seemed to be the only one with a blue-collar job) and the few people of colour were very few (but present!) and the bumper stickers on the cars were reasonably uniform (three occurrences of "Let's not elect Bush in 2004 either", three "Free Tibet", several meditation in-jokes). But it was interesting to notice my reactions to all these people. How do I react to people I find attractive? how is it different from my reaction to unattractive people? Who do I tend to be impatient with? whom do I smile indulgently towards? My favourite was probably the kooky old guy with the haystack of white hair, multiple piercings (including an alarming septum ring), a tattoo that said "VEGAN", and a "Veterans for Peace" hat festooned with buttons advocating various progressive causes. He must have some interesting stories to tell.

My roommate was neat. I was hoping to get to talk to her at the end of the retreat, but unfortunately she left partway through. We hadn't been doing a good job of keeping silence: we always seemed to be having conversations at 3 am, whether on account of one of us waking the other with a nightmare or by tripping over her (!) or on account of the truly impressive thunderstorm. Pity that we didn't get to talk in an officially-sanctioned way. I felt like we had a lot in common: she's a massage therapist, and I introduce myself as a massage therapist at parties.

I didn't want to leave at the end of the retreat, and I'm thinking of making a week or two-week retreat a yearly thing. I felt like it was too long between my first retreat and this one, and I think I can make a lot of progress with more time for concentrated effort. I'm even fantasizing about doing a three-month retreat. I was talking to some people about their experiences with it, and it makes me want to put all my other plans on hold so I can do this.

More detail than you need to know:
I was terrified going into the retreat. I was carrying a heavy load of remorse and fear, after having carelessly hurt (possibly quite badly) three or four people who are very dear to me. (Sordid story which I have no intention of going into here.) I was expecting to have storms of emotion break over my head as soon as I sat down to meditate. I was bracing myself for tears, rage, despair--all these big cathartic emotions. What I got instead was endless repetitions of the Sesame Street theme song: I spent the first six days of the retreat coping with the wandering of my mind. It wasn't what I was expecting, but it was probably exactly what I needed. I got to see exactly how undisciplined my mind is usually, and how much time I spend lost in fantasies or memories or planning. It was also a chance to encourage my mind to settle down, in a gentle compassionate manner. My natural tendency is, when I see my mind wandering during (say) metta meditation, to start chewing it out: "Look, motherfucker, do you want to be free of suffering or don't you? Settle down already!" The teachers emphasized over and over that the thing to do is just to notice the wandering and gently bring your attention back to whatever it is that you're attending to, rather than getting upset about the wandering itself. Hmm. Tricky, that.

One of the most healing interactions I had was with one of the resident chipmunks. Since everyone at the IMS moves slowly and deliberately and has taken it upon themselves to not harm any living being, the wild critters around there are not shy. The chipmunks in particular will climb on you at any opportunity--no doubt in hopes of your having brought them food. I did get in the habit of sharing my teatime sunflower seeds with them. (Someone pointed out later that we'd been instructed to not feed the animals. oops.) Quite apart from how adorkable they looked as they stuffed their little cheeks, it was good to realize that they were willing to trust me. If a chipmunk climbs up onto you, all you have to do to prove yourself worthy of that trust is to stay still. Since I was feeling spectacularly, deeply untrustworthy, it was reassuring to be reminded that being trustworthy, like all "character traits", is simply a set of actions, and that I can earn people's or critters' trust if I give my attention to it. The Earth is crammed with meditation teachers.

One thing that got mentioned in the Dharma talks was the preliminaries to meditation: Before you even start to meditate, the Buddha's instruction is to practice generosity (by supporting the communities of meditators) and to live a moral life so that your mind won't be preoccupied with remorse. Huh. Clever lad, that Buddha fellow.

The catharsis came, eventually. Once the tears started it seemed like they would never stop. At the end of the retreat I was still in full-blown Repentence mode, and in no way ready to go back to quotidian responsibilities.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


"Time and again we read of women travelers being thwarted by male officialdom simply because they were women, often through the agency of bureaucrats too timid to admit it," the travel writer Jan Morris notes in a foreword to the catalog.
"How different is it for women now," writes Ms. Morris, who was James Morris before undergoing a sex change. "I have had the peculiar experience of traveling both as a man and as a woman and I have reached the conclusion, on the whole, that during my own traveling years the female traveler has had it easier than the male." She added, "To this day, the human sorority is stronger by far than the fraternity."

Those are encouraging words. I'm daydreaming about travelling in northern Africa, and feeling a bit daunted by the idea. Maybe things will work out better than I'm fearing. And how interesting. There can't be too many people in a position to make a first-hand comparison of the experience of travel as a man and as a woman. Call me Tiresias.

addictive pleasures

Recently I moved my stuff from one room to another in my apartment to make way for my new roommates. In the process I got to do a lot of sorting through old junk. Throwing things out is a heady drug. I found myself getting on a roll, brutally wrenching books from the bookshelf to be sold at the local used-book store, culling any piece of clothing I hadn't worn in a year (well...maybe two years.....well, there were a few I couldn't bear to part with....) the end it got so that I was having to fish important financial documents out of the recycling bin, where they'd been tossed in my wild-eyed fervour.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

There's a rat in my kitchen what am I gonna do?

So I got back from Vancouver to find Droppings in the pantry. My roommates had, naturally, not noticed a thing. I went and got some mouse traps and put them around where the little darlings would be tempted by the All-Natural Healthy-Ass Peanut Butter and would fail to notice the All-Natural Head-Chopping-Off device. A few days later I noticed more droppings and was mildly annoyed that the critters had spurned my traps, until I started cleaning up the droppings and noticed the Footprints. This was no mouse I was dealing with. At first I thought "agouti" or "capybara", but then I realized that "rat" was more probable. As in, "Monster Rat who would laugh in a bone-chilling sinister manner at my pathetic attempts at traps, ha ha ha". I called the landlord, who called an exterminator, who came in and put down Seriously Big-Ass Traps and blocked up some holes and put poison behind the blocked-up holes. Unable to face the thought of sharing a space with that Beast any longer, I went away for a week...and came back to a Smell in the stairwell. With great fortitude and determination, I ignored it. The next day it was worse. And then as I was parking my bike in the stairwell, I saw...a tail.

O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart
Cannot conceive nor name thee!

With a heroic spirit of independence, I called the emergency maintenance guy. He laughed at me. He didn't want to make a special trip to throw out a dead rat. I thought about trying to explain to him that this wasn't a dead rat, it was a dead, rotting, possibly-being-devoured-by-maggots, Beast of Doom, but I didn't think I'd be able to make him understand. He finally said that if he ended up going my way he'd come take care of it, but when I got off the phone I said (out loud) "Fuck it. I'm doing this myself."

I gathered my courage, an old broom, and two cardboard boxes, figuring I'd scoot the Beast into one of the boxes with the broom handle and then put one box into the other, thereby shielding myself from whatever nastiness would come along with the Beast. I got everything all set up--the boxes strategically placed, the broom handle poised within an inch of Beast--and I froze. I simply couldn't move any closer. I put down the broom and went outside and started crying. "My best friends have all moved out of town this week, my ex-boyfriend probably wants to hunt me down and kill me, I'm never going to finish my dissertation...and now there's a rat in my basement! Waaah!"

And then I went back inside and did the job. I'd like to say that it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, but it was actually worse. I hadn't expected quite so many maggots. I poured a bunch of bleach on them, which seemed to kill most of the stench, but oh dear lord. If I ever, EVER have to do that again it will be far too soon.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Isaiah 64:1
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!

James 1:20
your anger does not produce God's righteousness.

another ambiguous compliment

"I'm going to have you give the toast at my wedding." (This is ambiguous only because the complimenter is both gay and a commitmentphobe. But it was sweet that he was impressed by my toast to my parents--it was after I gave a recital, on their anniversary, and I'd said something like, "Asking a group of people to sit still while I sing takes a certain amount of arrogance. I'd like to thank my parents for not beating that arrogance out of me while I was a child."...of course, my mother's response was "We tried!")

quote for dissertation

dixitque Deus
fiat lux
et facta est lux

--Genesis 1

Every beginning, after all, is nothing more than a sequel
and the book of events is always open in the middle

--Wislawa Szymborska

Les Philosophes qui font des systèmes sur la secrète construction de l'univers, sont comme nos voyageurs qui vont á Constantinople, et qui parlent du Sérail: Ils n'en ont vu que les dehors, et ils prétendent savoir ce que fait le Sultan avec ses Favorites.

--Voltaire: Pensées Philosophiques (1766)

Sunday, June 20, 2004

ambiguous compliments

"You're the most literate physicist I know."

"You sing gospel pretty good for a white girl."

"You're not too bad [-looking] for 29." [I was 28 at the time]

Thursday, June 17, 2004


I tried to start a political debate in the "Christian" community on Orkut by quoting the following bits of scripture. Didn't work, but it was fun to try.

Matthew 22:37-40 "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Matthew 25:40 '...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

James 2:18 'But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.'

Galatians 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Wisdom 11:24 "For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it."

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

things I've been quoting a lot recently

"Not without its charms is this terrible world,
not without its mornings
worth our waking."

--Wislawa Szymborska, "Reality demands", translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak

"there are no questions more urgent
than the naive ones."

--ditto, "The Turn of the Century"

"A word on statistics" (the whole thing)


"I am perfectly convinced that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise."

--Elizabeth Bennett, in Pride and Prejudice (of course)


"Ninety percent of everything is the paperwork."

--Terry Pratchett explains dark energy

Sunday, June 13, 2004


I've been thinking a lot recently about moving out. November seems awfully close. I'm (I assume) going to be living on my own for the first time ever--no family, no housemates, no dorm-buddies. My space. All mine. My underwear festooned about the livingroom to dry; my dishes in the sink for as long as I want to leave them there. And nobody else's dishes there, either; and no seven-liters-of-soymilk-and-six-of-OJ cluttering up the fridge; and no conflicts about who gets to watch movies tonight; and no friends-of-friends showing up unannounced to crash on the livingroom floor so that I step on them when I'm going to work at 4 am...nobody with an eerie sense of timing such that he always starts taking a long shower at the precise moment when I realize I need to pee really really badly...nobody to make animal noises with while cooking pasta...nobody to hassle me when I come in at an unseemly hour...nobody to sit around the kitchen table with me, gossiping about ancient empires and current friends....

Man I'm going to miss you guys.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004


So I was all puzzled about why I couldn't fit my elastic scattering data with monte carlo simulations of 3He on a gold target...turns out there's a simple reason for that: it was actually 4He that we were using. Duh, open the run logbook from time to time....

If I were just a little brighter, life would be much easier.

Friday, June 04, 2004

A thank-you to the "out" (first published on orkut, 3/10/2004)

Several people recently have pointed out opinion polls that show support for gay marriage growing. The increase is especially remarkable when you consider the trend over the past twenty years. I saw an article with actual statistics recently, but I wasn't clever enough to copy the URL at the time and now I have no idea where it was, alas; but the general trend is a huge increase in support, correlated with a huge increase in the number of people who know openly-gay people. (The other interesting statistic is that there's a massive generation gap, suggesting that the rabidly-anti-gay-marriage folks are dinosaurs, and we just need to let nature take its course.)

This is slightly depressing to me, but more in the every-silver-lining-must-have-a-cloud sense: why must humans be so unimaginative as to feel compassion only for people they know and like? Surely, at least among adults, we could hope for a bit more devotion to abstract ideas of justice and equality, independent of who our buddies are.

But given that that's how people are, there is a huge (and hugely encouraging) moral here: living with integrity and courage does make a positive difference in the world. Every person who has decided not to hide who they are and has come out of the closet is someone's cousin, neighbour, school teacher; every person who cares about their happiness will be forced to think twice about denying them the right to marry.

So to all of you who are out I say: thank you. You're making the world a better place for every citizen of this country--and indeed of the world--whether they know it or not.

George Eliot, epigraph to Ch. 21 of Daniel Deronda

It is a common sentence that Knowledge is power; but who hath duly considered or set forth the power of Ignorance? Knowledge slowly builds up what Ignorance in an hour pulls down. Knowledge, through patient and frugal centuries, enlarges discovery and makes record of it; Ignorance, wanting its day’s dinner, lights a fire with the record, and gives a flavour to its one roast with the burnt souls of many generations. Knowledge, instructing the sense, refining and multiplying needs, transforms itself into skill and makes life various with a new six days’ work; comes Ignorance drunk on the seventh, with a firkin of oil and a match and an easy "Let there not be" — and the many-coloured creation is shrivelled up in blackness. Of a truth, Knowledge is power, but it is a power reined by scruple, having a conscience of what must he and what may be; whereas Ignorance is a blind giant who, let him but wax unbound, would make it a sport to seize the pillars that hold up the long-wrought fabric of human good, and turn all the places of joy dark as a buried Babylon. And looking at life parcel-wise, in the growth of a single lot, who having a practised vision may not see that ignorance of the true bond between events, and false conceit of means whereby sequences may be compelled — like that falsity of eyesight which overlooks the gradations of distance, seeing that which is afar off as if it were within a step or a grasp precipitates the mistaken soul on destruction?

Charlotte Bronte, from the preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre whose eyes whatever is unusual is wrong; whose ears detect in each protest against bigotry, that parent of crime, an insult to piety, that regent of God on earth. I would suggest to such doubters certain obvious distinctions; I would remind them of certain simple truths.

Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns. These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is--I repeat it--a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.

The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it convenient to make external show pass for sterling worth--to let white-washed walls vouch for clean shrines. It may hate him who dares to scrutinise and expose--to rase the gilding, and show base metal under it--to penetrate the sepulchre, and reveal charnel relics: but hate as it will, it is indebted to him.

Lu-DRISH-uss how I used to think "ludicrous" was pronounced. (I guess I encountered the word in the "Anne of Green Gables" books, and never heard it said.)

I discovered that a friend had the same misconception. From then on, we used the word to each other nonstop in the lab: "They won't schedule you for scanner time until next month? That's ludricious!"

We felt that our work as minions of Satan was done, the day we heard someone who wasn't in the know saying "ludricious".

Since many people seem to be finding this blog by searching for the definition of "ludricious", here's the OED definition of ludicrous, for which "ludricious" is a mis-spelling:
ludicrous, a.[f. L. ludicr-us (app. evolved from the neut. n. ludicrum: sportive performance, stage-play, f. ludere: to play) + -OUS.]
1. Pertaining to play or sport; sportive; intended in jest, jocular, derisive. Obs.
2. Given to jesting; trifling, frivolous; also, in favourable sense, witty, humorous. Obs.
3. Suited to occasion derisive laughter; ridiculous, laughably absurd. (The only current sense.)
4. absol. (in senses 2 and 3).

Glad I could clear that up for you.